Trampling in the Land of Woe by William Galaini

Despite its dark title and even darker cover, I must recommend this book. It’s actually one of the lighter takes on the venerable “What Hell is Like” genre, started by Dante Alighieri with his “Inferno” in the 14th century, and picked up by a myriad of rock ‘n’ rollers and fantasy writers in the past few decades.

Not that it doesn’t get gruesome at times. Slitting bodies open and slashing limbs off are regular occurrences. But even in Purgatory, many of the characters are positive in outlook, and the theme is about love.

You see, Galaini’s underworld is rather fluid, with people that ought to be in Heaven hanging out in Purgatory, usually because of attachment to someone else. The hero is Alexander the Great’s historic best friend and second-in-command (and perhaps lover), Hephaestion. He decides, out of his great love for Alexander, to leave his place in Purgatory and descend into Hell to rescue his hero. And away he goes.

The most alluring part of this story is the setting. Detailed descriptions of fantastic landscapes populated by fascinating sinners and the whole scale of devilish denizens reminding us of the paintings Hieronymus Bosch.

Another strength is the characters. Hephaestion is a complex human who thinks he is acting on simple motivation. Of course the reader knows that life (and death) are not that straightforward, leading us to the theme of the piece, as the hero learns that nothing is as it seems, especially love.

And it wouldn’t be fair to leave out great supporting characters, many deaths (several of them experienced in full detail by the hero himself) and great suspense.

A sweeping saga with a tightly structured theme. Highly recommended for all fantasy fans, especially those with a historical or theological interest.

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

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